A little while back one of my young sons got into the habit of flippantly saying the word “hate”. A toy wouldn’t work and he’d say “I hate this toy.” He couldn’t pass a level on an X-Box game and he’d say “I hate this game.” He knew he wasn’t allowed to say it and that he would be in trouble if he used that word again. But even new habits die hard. So one day after a heated wrestling match with his brother I heard him once again say, “I hate you.” Now none of these things were said in a sort of vicious anger, but “hate” just became the word of choice to describe anything uncomfortable. So because I warned him and he did it again, I disciplined him and then had a very serious talk with him about the word. I explained to him how awful its meaning was. By the end of it, he very sincerely promised me, he resolved with me that he wouldn’t say the word again. I could tell he meant it, but it wasn’t even before the day ended that I saw him fumbling with something and what did he say? “I ha….. this thing.” I was looking right at him and said, “What did you say?!” He said “I hay this thing. Dad, I hay this thing.”
I tell you that story because when I think about New Year’s resolutions I can’t help but acknowledge that most of the time our resolutions to change end up just like my son’s resolution to stop saying that word. For a little while we may try, but most of the time we don’t end up doing what we want (Rom. 7:15). We’ll either start making compromises or just give up. We resolve to “lose the weight” or “quit smoking” or “exercise more” or __________________ (you fill in the blank), and almost inevitably stumble back to where we started.
With this proven track record of failure, should we even resolve (determine) to improve anything anymore? Well, the Bible’s answer to that question is Yes and No. On the “Yes” side of things it seems pretty clear that we are called to make some effort. Check out what the Apostle Peter says in 2 Peter 1:
Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
He goes on to say,
Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
Pretty clear to me…. Yes, we can always resolve to improve in certain areas.
Contrary to what many might teach, resolving towards growth without the proper food, the proper fuel, is a recipe for failure. The truth is, most of the time our resolutions are built on a solid foundation of Law. We either fear what will happen if we don’t change, or we hope for the many blessings that will supposedly come if we do change. If our desires for growth are born out of that soil of punishment and reward, well, we may change outwardly, but inwardly (where it really counts), we still won’t be where we should be. It seems to me that on that front, the Bible would tell us, “No, New Year’s Resolutions will only harm you unless they are born out of the proper soil.”
If Christians are going to have any dynamism, freedom, life, liberty, obedience, power, joy, peace, patience, you name it, the Bible’s pretty clear that we must grow from the gospel. That’s how Peter begins his letter we just quoted from (and for that matter, that’s how the rest of the New Testament speaks too!).
You have been granted all things that pertain to life and godliness. He has called you, He has granted to you great promises, He has saved you from the corruption that is in the world already, etc.
Here’s the point: As a Christian, whatever you resolve to do always must be grounded in this great truth: In Christ, God loves me, accepts me, saves me right where I’m at. There is nothing I can do to lose his favor, or gain his favor more. Christ has done it all for me. I am a new creation in Christ. The old has gone, the new has come. I am a slave to righteousness now and I am not in bondage to the flesh anymore. It is finished.
Martin Luther said it this way in his little writing, The Freedom of the Christian:
It ought to be the primary goal of every Christian to put aside confidence in works and grow stronger in the belief that we are saved by faith alone. Through this faith the Christian should increase in knowledge not of works but of Christ Jesus and the benefits of his death and resurrection.
When this is THE THING you’re steeped in, well, a funny thing begins to happen: You actually find yourself wanting to be better. Listen to Titus 2:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
What is it according to Paul that will “train us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions”? “The grace of God”.
What is it according to Paul that will make us a people “zealous for good works”? The grace of God manifesting itself through our “Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us.”
Too often, I come across people that have come to believe they’re not worthy enough to come to Church, or pray, or read the Word, and I just have to say all that shows me is that they’re not grasping the depth, the very purpose of the Gospel. The Gospel is for sinners. Only sinners. The Gospel says, literally, no matter what you do, what you’ve done, you ARE accepted, you ARE forgiven and that will never change. That voice telling you you’re not worthy to pray, read, go to Church or whatever else it is? That’s the voice of the devil screaming out from the pit of hell. DO NOT LISTEN!
So go ahead, make your resolutions, pray for change, confess when you don’t, but do it knowing that your relationship to God is already fully secure due to the work of Christ on your behalf. Then, maybe, just maybe, you’ll find yourself starting to change.
Erick is married to Melissa and they have 3 boys together. He earned his Master of Divinity Degree from Lutheran Brethren Seminary and has served as a Pastor in Fontana, California and Staten Island, New York. He also serves as the Chairman of Fifth Act Church Planting. In September of 2015 Erick started to plant Epiphany Lutheran Church in Manhattan.